What is the irony in "A Worn Path"?

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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In this poignant story "A Worn Path" by Eudora Welty the old lady Phoenix  Jackson makes a long and arduous journey across the countryside to the town of Natchez.  On the way she meets a black dog with a "lolling tongue." She hits the dog lightly with her cane, and the effort knocks her off balance and she falls into a ditch.

The dog's owner, a white hunter, happens by and helps her out of the ditch. When he hears that she is attempting to make it into town, he says it is too far and tells her to go home. But Phoenix is determined, and the hunter laughs, saying "I know you old colored people! Wouldn't miss going to town to see Santa Claus." While he is laughing, a nickel falls out of his pocket. While he momentarily turns his attention to his dogs, she snatches the nickel from the ground, "with the grace and care they would have in lifting an egg from under a setting hen."

Just before the hunter goes on his way he remarks condescendingly,

"I'd give you a dime if I had any money with me."

The irony of course is that the hunter does not know that he has already given her a nickel -which is actually worth five dimes -without even realising it! The white hunter thought he would be doing a great favour to black Phoenix Jackson by giving her a dime but actually he has given her five nickels!

A little later after Phoenix Jackson has collected the medicine for her grandson, the attendant at the hospital takes pity on her and gives her a nickel. The story ends with Phoenix Jackson deciding to buy her grandson a paper windmill with the two nickels she has: "I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper."

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